A prophetic time period referred to at Daniel 9:24-27 during which Jerusalem would be rebuilt and Messiah would appear and then be cut off; following that period the city as well as the holy place would be made desolate.
In the first year of Darius “the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes,” the prophet Daniel discerned from the prophecy of Jeremiah that the time for the release of the Jews from Babylon and their return to Jerusalem was near. Daniel then diligently sought Jehovah in prayer, in harmony with Jeremiah’s words: “‘And you will certainly call me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you will actually seek me and find me, for you will search for me with all your heart. And I will let myself be found by you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. . . . ‘And I will bring you back to the place from which I caused you to go into exile.’”—Jer 29:10-14; Da 9:1-4.
While Daniel was praying, Jehovah sent his angel Gabriel with a prophecy that nearly all Bible commentators accept as Messianic, though there are many variations in their understanding of it. Gabriel said:
“There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error, and to bring in righteousness for times indefinite, and to imprint a seal upon vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. And you should know and have the insight that from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks. She will return and be actually rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in the straits of the times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations. And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease. And upon the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; and until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.”—Da 9:24-27.
A Messianic Prophecy. It is quite evident that this prophecy is a “jewel” in the matter of identifying the Messiah. It is of the utmost importance to determine the time of the beginning of the 70 weeks, as well as their length. If these were literal weeks of seven days each, either the prophecy failed to be fulfilled, which is an impossibility (Isa 55:10, 11; Heb 6:18), or else the Messiah came more than 24 centuries ago, in the days of the Persian Empire, and was not identified. In the latter case, the other scores of qualifications specified in the Bible for the Messiah were not met or fulfilled. So it is evident that the 70 weeks were symbolic of a much longer time. Certainly the events described in the prophecy were of such a nature that they could not have occurred in a literal 70 weeks, or a little more than a year and four months. The majority of Bible scholars agree that the “weeks” of the prophecy are weeks of years. Some translations read “seventy weeks of years” (AT, Mo, RS); the Tanakh, a new Bible translation published in 1985 by the Jewish Publication Society, also includes this rendering in a footnote.—See Da 9:24, ftn.
When did the prophetic “seventy weeks” actually begin?
As to the beginning of the 70 weeks, Nehemiah was granted permission by King Artaxerxes of Persia, in the 20th year of his rule, in the month of Nisan, to rebuild the wall and the city of Jerusalem. (Ne 2:1, 5, 7, 8) In his calculations as to the reign of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah apparently used a calendar year that began with the month Tishri (September-October), as does the Jews’ present civil calendar, and ended with the month Elul (August-September) as the 12th month. Whether this was his own reckoning or the manner of reckoning employed for certain purposes in Persia is not known.
Some may object to the above statement and may point to Nehemiah 7:73, where Nehemiah speaks of Israel as being gathered in their cities in the seventh month—the monthly order here being based on a Nisan-to-Nisan year. But Nehemiah was here copying from “the book of genealogical enrollment of those who came up at the first” with Zerubbabel, in 537 B.C.E. (Ne 7:5) Again, Nehemiah describes the celebration of the Festival of Booths in his time as taking place in the seventh month. (Ne 8:9, 13-18) This was only fitting because the account says that they found what Jehovah commanded “written in the law,” and in that law, at Leviticus 23:39-43, it says that the Festival of Booths was to be in “the seventh month” (that is, of the sacred calendar, running from Nisan to Nisan).
However, as evidence indicating that Nehemiah may have used a fall-to-fall year in referring to certain events, we can compare Nehemiah 1:1-3 with 2:1-8. In the first passage he tells of receiving the bad news about Jerusalem’s condition, in Chislev (third month in the civil calendar and ninth in the sacred calendar) in Artaxerxes’ 20th year. In the second, he presents his request to the king that he be permitted to go and rebuild Jerusalem, and he is granted permission in the month Nisan (seventh in the civil calendar and first in the sacred), but still in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. So Nehemiah was obviously not counting the years of Artaxerxes’ reign on a Nisan-to-Nisan basis.
To establish the time for the 20th year of Artaxerxes, we go back to the end of the reign of his father and predecessor Xerxes, who died in the latter part of 475 B.C.E. Artaxerxes’ accession year thus began in 475 B.C.E., and his first regnal year would be counted from 474 B.C.E., as other historical evidence indicates. The 20th year of Artaxerxes’ rule would accordingly be 455 B.C.E.—See PERSIA, PERSIANS (The Reigns of Xerxes and of Artaxerxes).
“The Going Forth of the Word.” The prophecy says there would be 69 weeks of years “from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader.” (Da 9:25) Secular history, along with the Bible, gives evidence that Jesus came to John and was baptized, thereby becoming the Anointed One, Messiah the Leader, in the early autumn of the year 29 C.E. (See JESUS CHRIST [Time of Birth, Length of Ministry].) Calculating back from this vantage point in history, we can determine that the 69 weeks of years began in 455 B.C.E. In that year the significant “going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem” took place.
In Nisan (March-April) of the 20th year of Artaxerxes’ rule (455 B.C.E.), Nehemiah petitioned the king: “If your servant seems good before you, . . . send me to Judah, to the city of the burial places of my forefathers, that I may rebuild it.” (Ne 2:1, 5) The king granted permission, and Nehemiah made the long journey from Shushan to Jerusalem. On about the fourth of Ab (July-August), after making a night inspection of the walls, Nehemiah gave the command to the Jews: “Come and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer continue to be a reproach.” (Ne 2:11-18) Thus, “the going forth of the word” to rebuild Jerusalem, as authorized by Artaxerxes, was put into effect by Nehemiah in Jerusalem that same year. This clearly establishes 455 B.C.E. as the year from which the 70 weeks would begin to count.
The repair work on the walls was completed on the 25th day of Elul (August-September), in just 52 days. (Ne 6:15) After the rebuilding of the walls, the repairing of the rest of Jerusalem went forward. As to the first seven “weeks” (49 years), Nehemiah, with the help of Ezra and, afterward, others who may have succeeded them, worked, “in the straits of the times,” with difficulty from within, among the Jews themselves, and from without, on the part of the Samaritans and others. (Da 9:25) The book of Malachi, written after 443 B.C.E., decries the bad state into which the Jewish priesthood had by then fallen. Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem following a visit to Artaxerxes (compare Ne 5:14; 13:6, 7) is thought to have taken place after this. Just how long after 455 B.C.E. he personally continued his efforts in building Jerusalem, the Bible does not reveal. However, the work was evidently completed within 49 years (seven weeks of years) to the extent necessary, and Jerusalem and its temple remained for the Messiah’s coming.—See MALACHI, BOOK OF (Time of Composition).
Messiah’s Arrival After ‘Sixty-Nine Weeks.’ As to the following “sixty-two weeks” (Da 9:25), these, being part of the 70 and named second in order, would continue from the conclusion of the “seven weeks.” Therefore, the time “from the going forth of the word” to rebuild Jerusalem until “Messiah the Leader” would be 7 plus 62 “weeks,” or 69 “weeks”—483 years—from the year 455 B.C.E. to 29 C.E. As mentioned above, in the autumn of that year, 29 C.E., Jesus was baptized in water, was anointed with holy spirit, and began his ministry as “Messiah the Leader.”—Lu 3:1, 2, 21, 22.
Thus, centuries in advance Daniel’s prophecy pinpointed the exact year of the Messiah’s arrival. There is no confirmation that the Jews in the first century C.E. had made calculations on the basis of Daniel’s prophecy for Messiah’s appearance. But the Bible reports: “Now as the people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ?’” (Lu 3:15) Although they were expecting the Messiah, they evidently could not pinpoint the exact month, week, or day of his arrival. Therefore, they wondered whether John was the Christ, even though John evidently began his ministry in the spring of 29 C.E., about six months before Jesus presented himself for baptism.
“Cut off” at the half of the week. Gabriel further said to Daniel: “After the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.” (Da 9:26) It was sometime after the end of the ‘seven plus sixty-two weeks,’ actually about three and a half years afterward, that Christ was cut off in death on a torture stake, giving up all that he had, as a ransom for mankind. (Isa 53:8) Evidence indicates that the first half of the “week” was spent by Jesus in the ministry. On one occasion, likely in the fall of 32 C.E., he gave an illustration, apparently speaking of the Jewish nation as a fig tree (compare Mt 17:15-20; 21:18, 19, 43) that had borne no fruit for “three years.” The vinedresser said to the owner of the vineyard: “Master, let it alone also this year, until I dig around it and put on manure; and if then it produces fruit in the future, well and good; but if not, you shall cut it down.” (Lu 13:6-9) He may have referred here to the time period of his own ministry to that unresponsive nation, which ministry had continued at that point for about three years and was to continue into a fourth year.
Covenant in force “for one week.” Daniel 9:27 states: “And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week [or seven years]; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.” The “covenant” could not be the Law covenant, for Christ’s sacrifice, three and a half years after the 70th “week” began, resulted in its removal by God: “He has taken it [the Law] out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.” (Col 2:14) Also, “Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law . . . The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham might come to be by means of Jesus Christ for the nations.” (Ga 3:13, 14) God, through Christ, did extend the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to the natural offspring of Abraham, excluding the Gentiles until the gospel was taken to them through Peter’s preaching to the Italian Cornelius. (Ac 3:25, 26; 10:1-48) This conversion of Cornelius and his household occurred after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, which is generally considered to have taken place in about 34 C.E.; after this the congregation enjoyed a period of peace, being built up. (Ac 9:1-16, 31) It appears, then, that the bringing of Cornelius into the Christian congregation took place about the autumn of 36 C.E., which would be the end of the 70th “week,” 490 years from 455 B.C.E.
Sacrifices and offerings ‘caused to cease.’ The expression ‘cause to cease,’ used with reference to sacrifice and gift offering, means, literally, “cause or make to sabbath, to rest, to desist from working.” The “sacrifice and gift offering” that are ‘caused to cease,’ according to Daniel 9:27, could not be Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, nor would they logically be any spiritual sacrifice by his footstep followers. They must refer to the sacrifices and gift offerings that were offered by the Jews at the temple in Jerusalem according to Moses’ Law.
“The half of the week” would be at the middle of seven years, or after three and a half years within that “week” of years. Since the 70th “week” began about the fall of 29 C.E. at Jesus’ baptism and anointing to be Christ, half of that week (three and a half years) would extend to the spring of 33 C.E., or Passover time (Nisan 14) of that year. This day appears to have been April 1, 33 C.E., according to the Gregorian calendar. (See LORD’S EVENING MEAL [Time of Its Institution].) The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus ‘came to do the will of God,’ which was to ‘do away with what is first [the sacrifices and offerings according to the Law] that he may establish what is second.’ This he did by offering as a sacrifice his own body.—Heb 10:1-10.
Although the Jewish priests continued to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in 70 C.E., the sacrifices for sin ceased having acceptance and validity with God. Just before Jesus’ death he said to Jerusalem: “Your house is abandoned to you.” (Mt 23:38) Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually . . . For it is by one sacrificial offering that he has made those who are being sanctified perfect perpetually.” “Now where there is forgiveness [of sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Heb 10:12-14, 18) The apostle Paul points out that Jeremiah’s prophecy spoke of a new covenant, the former covenant (Law covenant) being thereby made obsolete and growing old, “near to vanishing away.”—Heb 8:7-13.
Transgression and sin terminated. Jesus’ being cut off in death, his resurrection, and his appearance in heaven resulted in ‘terminating transgression and finishing off sin as well as in making atonement for error.’ (Da 9:24) The Law covenant had exposed the Jews as sinners, condemned them as such, and brought upon them the curse as covenant breakers. But where sin “abounded” as exposed or made evident by the Mosaic Law, God’s mercy and favor abounded much more through his Messiah. (Ro 5:20) By Messiah’s sacrifice, transgression and sin of the repentant sinners can be canceled and the penalty thereof be lifted.
Everlasting righteousness brought in. The value of Christ’s death on the stake provided a reconciliation for repentant believers. A propitiatory covering was drawn over their sins, and the way was opened for their being “declared righteous” by God. Such righteousness will be everlasting and will procure everlasting life for the ones declared righteous.—Ro 3:21-25.
Anointing the Holy of Holies. Jesus was anointed with holy spirit at the time of baptism, the holy spirit coming down on him visibly represented in the form of a dove. But the anointing of “the Holy of Holies” refers to more than the anointing of the Messiah, because this expression does not refer to any person. “The Holy of Holies” or “the Most Holy” is the expression used to refer to the sanctuary of Jehovah God. (Ex 26:33, 34; 1Ki 6:16; 7:50) Therefore, the anointing of “the Holy of Holies” mentioned in the book of Daniel must relate to “the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands,” into which Jesus Christ as the great High Priest entered “with his own blood.” (Da 9:24; Heb 9:11, 12) When Jesus presented the value of his human sacrifice to his Father, heaven itself had the appearance of the spiritual reality represented by the Most Holy of the tabernacle and of the later temple. So God’s heavenly abode had indeed been anointed, or set apart, as “the Holy of Holies” in the great spiritual temple arrangement that came into being at the time of Jesus’ being anointed with holy spirit in 29 C.E.—Mt 3:16; Lu 4:18-21; Ac 10:37, 38; Heb 9:24.
‘Imprinting a seal upon vision and prophet.’ All this work accomplished by the Messiah—his sacrifice, his resurrection, his appearance with the value of his sacrifice before the heavenly Father, and the other things occurring during the 70th week—‘imprints a seal upon vision and prophet,’ showing these to be true and from God. It stamps them with the seal of divine backing, as being from one divine source and not from erring man. It seals up the vision as being restricted to Messiah because it finds its fulfillment in him and God’s work through him. (Re 19:10) Its interpretation is found in him, and we cannot look to anyone else for its fulfillment. Nothing else will unseal its meaning.—Da 9:24.
Desolations to the city and the holy place. It was after the 70 “weeks,” but as a direct result of the Jews’ rejection of Christ during the 70th “week,” that the events of the latter parts of Daniel 9:26 and 27 were fulfilled. History records that Titus the son of Emperor Vespasian of Rome was the leader of the Roman forces that came against Jerusalem. These armies actually entered into Jerusalem and the temple itself, like a flood, and desolated the city and its temple. This standing of pagan armies in the holy place made them a “disgusting thing.” (Mt 24:15) All efforts made prior to Jerusalem’s end to quiet the situation failed because God’s decree was: “What is decided upon is desolations,” and “until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.”
A Jewish View. The Masoretic text, with its system of vowel points, was prepared in the latter half of the first millennium C.E. Evidently because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Masoretes accented the Hebrew text at Daniel 9:25 with an ʼath·nachʹ, or “stop,” after “seven weeks,” thereby dividing it off from the “sixty-two weeks”; in this way the 62 weeks of the prophecy, namely, 434 years, appear to apply to the time of rebuilding ancient Jerusalem. The translation by Isaac Leeser reads: “Know therefore and comprehend, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed the prince will be seven weeks: [the stop is represented here by a colon] and during sixty and two weeks will it be again built with streets and ditches (around it), even in the pressure of the times.” The translation of the Jewish Publication Society of America reads similarly: “shall be seven weeks; and for threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again.” In these two versions the words “during” and “for,” respectively, appear in the English translation, evidently to support the translators’ interpretation.
Professor E. B. Pusey, in a footnote on one of his lectures delivered at the University of Oxford, remarks on the Masoretic accenting: “The Jews put the main stop of the verse under שִׁבְעָה [seven], meaning to separate the two numbers, 7 and 62. This they must have done dishonestly, למען המינים (as Rashi [a prominent Jewish Rabbi of the 11th and 12th centuries C.E.] says in rejecting literal expositions which favored the Christians) ‘on account of the heretics,’ i.e. Christians. For the latter clause, so divided off, could only mean, ‘and during threescore and two weeks street and wall shall be being restored and builded,’ i.e. that Jerusalem should be 434 years in rebuilding, which would be senseless.”—Daniel the Prophet, 1885, p. 190.
As to Daniel 9:26 (Le), which reads, in part, “And after the sixty and two weeks will an anointed one be cut off without a successor to follow him,” the Jewish commentators apply the 62 weeks to a period up to the Maccabean age, and the term “anointed one” to King Agrippa II, who lived at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, 70 C.E. Or some say this was a high priest, Onias, who was deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes in 175 B.C.E. Their applications of the prophecy to either of these men would rob it of any real significance or import, and the discrepancy in the dating would make the 62 weeks no accurate time prophecy at all.—See Soncino Books of the Bible (commentary on Da 9:25, 26), edited by A. Cohen, London, 1951.
In an attempt to justify their view, these Jewish scholars say that the “seven weeks” are, not 7 times 7, or 49 years, but 70 years; yet they count the 62 weeks as 7 times 62 years. This, they claim, referred to the period of Babylonian exile. They make Cyrus or Zerubbabel or High Priest Jeshua the “anointed one” in this verse (Da 9:25), with the “anointed one” in Daniel 9:26 being another person.
Most English translations do not follow the Masoretic punctuation here. They either have a comma after the expression “seven weeks” or in the wording indicate that the 62 weeks follow the 7 as part of the 70, and do not denote that the 62 weeks apply to the period of rebuilding Jerusalem. (Compare Da 9:25 in KJ, AT, Dy, NW, Ro, Yg.) An editorial note by James Strong in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Da 9:25, ftn, p. 198) says: “The only justification of this translation, which separates the two periods of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, assigning the former as the terminus ad quem of the Anointed Prince, and the latter as the time of rebuilding, lies in the Masoretic interpunction, which places the Athnac [stop] between them. . . . and the rendering in question involves a harsh construction of the second member, being without a preposition. It is better, therefore, and simpler, to adhere to the Authorized Version, which follows all the older translations.”—Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
Numerous other views, some Messianic and some non-Messianic, have been set forth as to the meaning of the prophecy. It may be noted, in this connection, that the earliest available Septuagint translation badly distorts what is in the Hebrew text. As explained by Professor Pusey, in Daniel the Prophet (pp. 328, 329), the translator falsified the stated time period, as well as added, altered, and transposed words, in order to make the prophecy support the struggle of the Maccabees. That obviously distorted translation has been replaced in most modern editions of the Septuagint with one made by Theodotion, a Jewish scholar of the second century C.E., whose rendering conforms to the Hebrew text.
Some attempt to change the order of the time periods of the prophecy, while others make them run simultaneously or deny that they have any actual time fulfillment. But those presenting such views become hopelessly entangled, and their attempts to extricate themselves result in absurdity or in an outright denial that the prophecy is inspired or true. Of the latter ideas particularly, which raise more problems than they solve, the aforementioned scholar, E. B. Pusey, remarks: “These were the impossible problems for unbelief to solve; it had to solve them for itself, which was, so far, easier; for nothing is impossible for unbelief to believe, except what God reveals.”—P. 206.
[Diagram on page 901]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)